187 countries agree to regulate plastic trade

The United Nations has announced amendments to the Basel Convention, including the characterisation of plastic as a hazardous material.

The Basel Convention controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another, and with 187 signatories is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on waste.

The amendment was approved by Australia and 186 other countries following a two week conference. Noticeably absent was the United States, the largest plastic waste exporter in the world.

The United States was one of two countries not to ratify the agreement.

UN Environment Executive Secretary Rolph Payet said plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes found in the world’s oceans.

“Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework,” Mr Payet said.

“Which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.”

Mr Payet said a new Partnership on Plastic Waste will be established to assist with implementing the new measures.

“The partnership will provide a set of practical supports including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for this ground-breaking agreement,” Mr Payet said.

Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, who attended the conference, said the amendment will require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or un-recyclable plastic waste.

“After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle,” Mr Hernandez said.

“This decision provides an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.”

BaliFokus Co-Founder Yuyun Ismawati, who also attended the conference, said the amendment would force higher standards of responsible plastic waste management.

Ms. Ismawati said Indonesia had received an additional 184,702 tons of plastic waste following China’s National Sword policy – with imports increasing by 141 per cent and exports decreasing by 48 per cent.

“Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities,” Ms Ismawati said.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Indonesia is Australia’s second-largest waste destination, taking 19 per cent of total waste exports.

The amendment follows a recent Malaysian investigation into illegal plastic waste imports and an Indian ban on the material.

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Coca-Cola to ban straws

Coca-Cola Amatil has announced it will no longer distribute plastic drinking straws or stirrers in Australia and instead stock fully recyclable and biodegradable FSC-accredited (Forest Stewardship Council) paper straws.

Group managing director Alison Watkins said the decision was another step forward in the company’s efforts to reduce single-use plastics.

“We’re serious about playing our part in reducing unnecessary plastic packaging,” Ms Watkins said.

“We’ve heard the community message loud and clear that unnecessary packaging is unacceptable and we all need to work together to reduce the amount entering litter streams, the environment and the oceans.

“The new paper drinking straws will be sourced from suppliers BioPak and Austraw and made available through Amatil’s ordering platform to around 115,000 outlets nationwide including grocery, petrol and convenience stores, bars, cafes and quick service restaurants.”

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Distribution of the old single-use plastic drinking straws and stirrers will cease as stocks run out over the next two months.

The new sustainable paper straws will be available from February.

Ms Watkins said the intention was for 100 per cent of Coca Cola Amatil’s Australian packaging to be fully recyclable by 2025, including all bottles, cans, plastic wrap, straws, glass and cardboard.

“We are working towards phasing out unnecessary and problematic single-use plastics entirely, through improved design, innovation or the use of recycled alternatives,” Ms Watkins said.

Last year, Coca-Cola Amatil announced that by 2020 it would develop the business case for a weighted average of 50 per cent recycled plastic in PET containers across the Australian portfolio, including carbonated soft drinks.

The Coca-Cola Company is also developing sustainable packaging goals to increase the recycled content in plastic bottles, and supports recycling programs in Australia.

ANZRP to build world’s first commercial e-waste microfactory

The Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP) has announced plans to build the world’s first commercial e-waste plastic microfactory after receiving a $250,000 grant from Sustainability Victoria.

In partnership with UNSW SMaRT Centre and e-recycler TES, the microfactory will process up to 500,000 kilograms of waste plastic per year. This will be recovered from e-waste recycling and reformed into 3D printer filament for retail sale.

Worldwide demand for plastic 3D printer filament is estimated to triple during the next four years, reaching a value of more than USD$1,965.30 million by 2023.

With the upcoming e-waste ban in Victoria and growing restrictions on exports of mixed e-waste plastic, options to reduce the cost of recycling and keep these materials out of landfill are growing. The project aims to reform a waste stream (e-waste plastic) that’s currently shipped overseas for processing or sent to local landfill.

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Warren Overton, CEO of ANZRP, said the e-waste plastic micro-factory is a truly circular economy approach that ensures materials are kept in productive use.

“We’re so pleased to be supporting Australian innovation from UNSW and TES that helps improve e-waste recycling,” Mr Overton said.

“As the volume of e-waste continues to increase, technologically advanced approaches such as microfactories will play a key role mitigating the impact of old televisions and computers.

“By working alongside industry and internationally recognised research hubs, ANZRP is committed to ensuring all e-waste is managed responsibly. This reduces environmental impact and creates employment.”

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the grants will help develop a circular economy that maximises the reuse of materials and reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill.

With construction due to start early 2019, the microfactory will be housed at the TES e-waste recycling facility in Somerton, Victoria. This portable factory has the potential to be moved and process recovered e-waste plastic in other areas.

“The microfactory has the potential to scale and accommodate the 6000 tonne plastic feedstock that is currently produced each year from the e-waste recycled through the TechCollect program,” Mr Overton said.

“We have taken the first step with a scalable solution that has guaranteed feedstock, strong environmental benefits, as well as economic benefits through the creation of employment opportunities in regional and metropolitan parts of Australia.”